Trying to keep abreast of unfolding events in Iran, but finding your Farsi is a bit rusty? Google announced today it has added Farsi to the list of languages Google Translate can convert automatically to English. Persian was already on the list of languages Google hoped to include on Google Translate, but political upheaval in Iran and the resulting media crackdown has made the Internet a key source of information coming into and out of that country. Facebook also rushed a beta translation of its site in Farsi into production, hoping more people will use the site to communicate current events coming out of Iran.
Since disputed presidential elections set off a series of political protests, Twitter has emerged as a key tool for both political organizers within Iran to rally supporters, as well as for "citizen journalists" trying to keep the rest of the world in tune with the political realities on the ground in Tehran. Naturally, Google and Facebook wouldn't mind receiving the kind of publicity that comes with cable news anchors repeatedly referencing their sites as a credible news sources, so perhaps neither action can be viewed as completely altruistic. But stepping up to the occasion, especially on Google's part, will make it easier for interested users to find the information they seek.
Already available in 41 languages, Google Translate can convert electronic documents ranging from tweets to emails to entire Web pages and PDFs from one tongue to another. Principal Google scientist Franz Och warned the site isn't perfect and may perform slowly—it was a rushed job, after all—and it's optimized for English to Farsi translation, so translating to other languages may cause problems. But a quick test drive of the translator shows that while indeed the translations aren't perfect, they're completely serviceable.